NEW DELHI: Tucked away in a remote corner of the city, this over 80-year-old Harijan ashram served as a laboratory for Mahatma Gandhi's fight against social evils like untouchability, but public apathy and "lack of political patronage" have pushed this Gandhian landmark into obscurity.
Harijan Sewak Sangh, born out of the historic Poona Pact between Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1932, was founded by the Father of the Nation the same year, to lend a conducive environment for the upliftment of the oppressed classes or 'Harijans' as he called them.
But, the place that Gandhi personally nurtured to "bring light" into the lives of the people living on the lower strata of the society, has itself, literally "fallen into darkness".
"Yes, it is sad that after sundown, the ashram plunges into darkness. We have an acute shortage of fund, and owing to that we are not able to afford the electricity bill to run the lights in the campus, barring a couple of them," Secretary of Harijan Sewak Sangh, Laxmi Dass told PTI.
He also points out that "lack of political patronage" added to its neglect and "failure as a tourist landmark".
"Unlike the Gandhi memorial at the Birla House and the Rajghat here, it never enjoyed the kind of political patronage it should have. Maybe being an institution for the Dalits, it did not get much into mainstream.
"And, add to it the fact that the place does not find mention in the tourism literature and city guides either, unlike Birla House or Rajghat. The place has fallen right off the map," Dass said.
Spread over 27 acres of land in the historic Kingsway Camp area in north Delhi, the ashram has a towering "Dharma Stambh" and a beautiful but faded "Sarwa Dharma Sambhav Temple", both of which were constructed under the supervision of Gandhi.
"Gandhiji laid the foundation stone of the temple and later also opened it. But, on October 2, one could see garbage being dumped near it. And, though the iconic pillar (Stambh) still has its glory somewhat intact, the temple needs a refurbishment," an employee of the ashram said, requesting anonymity.
Dass said the institution was planning to send a proposal to the Centre to "develop" the place "on par with" the Birla House and Rajghat, and put it back on the map.
The ashram campus also has a unique "Shauchalaya Pradarshni (toilet gallery)" in its front yard, which Gandhiji got established in consultation with well-known sanitation activists Ishwarbhai Patel and Appasaheb Patwardhan.
"Gandhiji despised untouchability and saw manual scavenging as a prime reason for it. And, he saw creation of toilets as a road to empowerment. Gandhi didn't just establish an ashram, he sowed the seeds of a social revolution, all but forgotten by people now," 83-year-old Ram Raj Prabhakar, a former employee of the ashram, said.